Ronan Higham is managing director of Belfast-based Pure Fitout. The shopfitting company, which employs 49 people, creates luxury interiors for bars, hotels, restaurants and retail through its in-house manufacturing facility of metal fabrication and joinery.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
Shock and concern. I was worried at the time that it would have a detrimental impact on us. I thought it left us high and dry but we have actually grown quite a bit since then. More than we thought we would.
How is your business likely to be affected?
Nobody knows. It is all open because nobody is giving any certainty about how Brexit might impact borders or taxes. We can't predict the outcome in terms of border checks, commodity codes, insurance. We do work in the UK and the Republic and we don't know how it might be impacted.
How much do you rely on exports or the supply of materials across the Border?
A large percentage of our clients are in the Republic of Ireland so there are concerns about fluctuations in currency and the price of manufacturing materials we buy within the EU could rise.
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?
"We started preparing in 2018. We have attended Invest NI and FSB [Federation of Small Business] seminars but there has been no clear definition. However, they have indicated the impact on strategic sourcing. We are trying to get as much information from our clients for planning projects. We have widened our supply chain.
We are probably doing a bit more work with UK companies. We have very transparent conversations with key stakeholders, clients, landlords, and everyone else we deal with.
Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?
We are trying to get a bigger foothold into the UK market. We have a few projects now in London and are planning on doing a lot more. We have also expanded our supply chain into Germany and Spain but we are not sure how that will work when Brexit happens.
Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
It depends how it goes. We are in a Northern Ireland location. It could be fantastic for us. We have access to the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain but that depends on the Border outcomes and tariffs. With the backstop it could end up a good thing. We try to see the bright side.
When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?
We are as ready as we can be given the ongoing uncertainty and given the limited information from the UK and Republic of Ireland governments.
What’s your best-/worst-case scenario?
Best case is continuing to trade Ireland wide, and GB, without interruption. Continue to receive raw materials from EU and UK. Worst case is the UK and Ireland enter recession and that will stifle growth in our company.
Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?
We have made a small increase in our stocks but we are not carrying huge amounts of stock.
How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit for your company or sector?
Ensure no hard border, reduce additional costs, no tax increases or any increased charges. It’s so vague at present its awful.
How do you think the Irish and UK governments have handled the Brexit negotiations?
The UK poorly. They appear disorganised and unthoughtful to businesses and the economy. They have left it too late for a positive outcome.
The Irish are following the EU really which is fair enough because they didn’t ask to leave.
Looking out five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
Uncertain, but we will keep adapting.
Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?
Yes, absolutely. The way the vote was handled and he lack of information about the way the country would end up after Brexit has been disastrous. The country needs to be properly informed. Even now at the late stage nobody is sure how this will end up.